The Blog's Mission

Wikipedia defines a book review as: “a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. A book review can be a primary source opinion piece, summary review or scholarly review”. My mission is to provide the reader with my thoughts on the author’s work whether it’s good, bad, or ugly. I read all genres of books, so some of the reviews may be on hard to find books, or currently out of print. All of my reviews will also be available on Amazon.com. I will write a comment section at the end of each review to provide the reader with some little known facts about the author, or the subject of the book. Every now and then, I’ve had an author email me concerning the reading and reviewing of their work. If an author wants to contact me, you can email me at rohlarik@gmail.com. I would be glad to read, review and comment on any nascent, or experienced writer’s books. If warranted, I like to add a little comedy to accent my reviews, so enjoy!
Thanks, Rick O.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Clockmaker's Daughter

This is a novel with many intertwined stories centering around the Birchwood Manor in 1862 England and continuing for the next 150 years. The novel jumps back and forth between the 1800s, 1900s and the year 2017 with way more than needed characters. I almost stopped reading (I didn’t because of the author’s above average prose) Kate Morton’s latest novel until the novel became plausible and understandable on page 160. Normally, I’m not a big fan of flip-flopping novels. How do you figure? For 160 pages I was convoluted and bored, then the story's light bulb came on and suddenly I couldn’t stop reading the next 322 pages. I have never read a novel that handled reminiscing as well as Kate Morton’s did. There are as many chapter narrators as there are characters, but the main narrator is a ghost. Yes a ghost. I did notice a few similarities with Kate Morton’s novel to Eudora Welty’s 1972 novel, The Optimist’s Daughter, but no presumptions made.

In the summer of 2017, a archiver named Elodie Winslow finds a leather satchel bag containing an artist sketchbook and a sepia photo of a beautiful woman under the stairwell of her workplace. They appear to be from the 1800s. She takes a interest in finding out who this woman is and who owned the satchel with the initials L.S-W. The sketches were beautiful and also contained a scrap of paper saying, “I love her, I love her, I love her and if I cannot have her I shall surely go mad, for when I am not with her I fear…” And the story is off and running. You will meet many interesting characters throughout the novel, such as, Edward Radcliffe (a young artist and owner of the Birchwood Manor), His sister Lucy, Leonard Gilbert (a WWI soldier and scholar), Juliet (a widow with three kids running from Hitler’s bombs of WWII), Jack Rolands (a treasure hunter), Mrs. Mack (a female Artful Dodger), Fanny Brown (Edward’s fiance) and the very mysterious Birdie Bell/ Lily Millington (a pickpocket or an artist model?).

Your first stop after Elodie finds the articles is going back to 1862. Edward Radcliffe invites his gang of Magenta Brotherhood (a group of artists and photographers) to spend a joyous summer at his new manor. Of course we go back to the past and jump to the present for all the participants (I’ve only mentioned a few in the above paragraph). Not for nothing, when you do this much reminiscing, the years start getting jumbled in your mind. Is it 1858, 1862, 1869, 1899, 1928, 1944, or 2017? (that's only a few of the years that the writer flip-flops) A lot of the chapters start out with a narrator that’s somewhat unidentifiable until halfway through the chapter. Before I got to page 160, I had no idea what the purpose of this novel was. Was it to find a murderer? If so, who got murdered? Was it a mystery or just a semi gothic story? Will Elodie’s snooping solve the case, if there is a case? And how do these dozens (and I mean dozens) of characters fit into this 150 year old puzzle? Are you confused? You should be. I would rate the first 160 pages poorly (😣) and the next 322 pages (😀😀😀😀)...supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: I only mentioned Eudora Welty’s 1973 Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Optimist’s Daughter in the first paragraph, because of some minor similarities other than the book’s title. For instance, The main character in Kate Morton’s novel had a similar name to the writer of The Optimist’s Daughter...Elodie versus Eudora. Second of all, Welty’s novel was saturated with reminiscing as was Kate Morton’s. As a matter of fact, I looked up the reviews of Welty’s 1972 novel and they were eerily close to mine. One reader said of Welty’s novel, “I’ve read other reviews and realize this book was confusing to some people even to the point that they gave up…” I’m just saying.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

RED MOON

Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel, which was frequently boring and unduly technical, is a murder/mystery whodunit situated on Earth’s moon. The actual murder almost becomes a sidebar to the political troubles of China on the Earth as well as on the moon. Pages are accented with Feng Shui (also known as Chinese geomancy), which is a pseudoscience that uses energy forces to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment (according to Wikipedia). One of the three main characters, Ta Shu, seemed to be a master at blending himself into his surroundings, if that makes any sense. I guess the Feng Shui time spent on the book was to give the reader the flavor of old China. Ta shu was a older gentleman that was a ex-poet laureate (for the lack of better words) of some renown but now had his own travel TV show. At times he seemed to be a combination of philosopher Confucius and the benevolent Honolulu detective Charlie Chan.

The second main character, Fred Fredericks, a Quantum mechanic, is on the moon for the first time to install a quantum communication system for the Chinese Lunar Authority. What’s a quantum? A discrete quantity of energy proportional in magnitude to the frequency of the radiation it represents. Got it? Haha. The dozens of peripheral characters in this novel all had long job titles and similar names, which made it difficult for the reader to remember who was who. Here are a few characters and their job titles: Jiang Jianguo, the lead inspector and head of the Lunar personnel coordination task force; Zhou Bao, officer of the Chinese Lunar Authority in charge of Petrov Crater Station, or the analyst. Why is that title short? Sorry, it’s actually the analyst in the Hefei office of the Artificial Intelligence Strategic advisory Committee who communicates with AI I-330. Yet the story grew on you to the point that you needed to know why a certain Governor Chang Yazu was killed and who did it. What happened when Fred met Chang Yazu to deliver the ordered private phone (a unicaster)? "Chang extended his hand and Fred took it, and they shook hands...Chang looked surprised...then he crumpled to one side." Dead.

Now let’s talk about the technical lingo used by the Hugo Award winning author, who thought we should be so informed. I understand the author is very technical in his novels, but I think he went overboard in this novel. We will use Fred Fredericks thinking to himself about a problem as an example of too much tech: “He wondered if Shor’s algorithm, which took advantage of quantum superposition to factor large numbers, could be used to define the temporal length of a moment of being. It had to be longer - it felt much longer - than the minimum temporal interval, the Planck interval, which was the time it took a photon moving at the speed of light to move across the Pauli exclusion zone within which two particles could coexist: that minimal interval of time was 10 -44 of a second. A moment of being was more like a second, he felt, maybe three seconds.” Now, did that help us find the murderer? No, it’s more likely that Kim Stanley Robinson was showing off his noggin. To be fair, all of the book’s text is not like that.

The third main character is Chan Qi (surprisingly, the author kept the amount of main characters down to a low acceptable level), daughter of Chan Guoliang, the Minister of Finance and member of the Politburo Standing Committee in China (I told you that no one has a simple job title). She was a political activist, who always seemed to be on the run from the powers that be. On page 79, Officer Zhou learns from Inspector Jiang that Qi is being kicked off the moon, “She’s a princeling. And she is pregnant.” Zhou exclaimed, “No getting pregnant, it’s against the rules.” The saga of Fred, Qi and Ta Shu continues throughout the novel. It’s a world where every Chinese person (living on the moon...not sure about Earth) has a chip implanted in their back so the authorities can track them. Military activity is forbidden on the moon by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. The South Pole of the moon is controlled by the Chinese and the North Pole by the Americans. The governments of China and the USA are in economic turmoil and in the midst of a civil rebellion. The novel is set thirty years from now. Okay, you got all the tidbits you’re getting from me. Did I like the Novel? I’m kind of neutral on the story, only because of all needless confusion and extra fluff. By the way, the novel doesn't end, which means there is a continuation novel coming. Doesn't anyone write a standalone novel anymore? He has done much better work. I’ll give this novel three sleepy heads out of five. 😔😔😔

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: I always try to do a little homework on the book I’m reading, but sometimes I still don’t understand. Take the feng shui for an example. I went to Wikipedia for help, but still don’t understand. Here, in part, is what they said:

“The feng shui practice discusses architecture in terms of ‘invisible forces’ that bind the universe, earth, and humanity together, known as Qi. Historically, feng shui was widely used to orient buildings - often spiritually significant structures such as tombs, but also dwellings and other structures - in an auspicious manner. Depending on the particular style of feng shui being used, an auspicious site could be determined by reference to local features such as bodies of water, stars or the compass.”

Using feng shui (according to huffpost.com) can be a way to rearrange our homes. Let’s use the bedroom for example:
1. Get rid of the TV- TV’s and all electronics, for that manner - emit positive ions, which are said to drain energy from the body.
2. Don’t let a mirror face your bed- You should never be able to see yourself in a mirror while you’re in bed. When you see a human image in the mirror, you’re inviting another person into your relationship.
3. Move your bed away from the windows- Feng Shui is strict on the rule that your head should never be under a window while sleeping...position your bed against a solid wall with no doors on either side...don’t point your feet toward a door. Traditionally, the dead are carried out feet first.

Okay, in my next review, I will have the feng shui rules for your kitchen (Haha).

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Are you looking for a poignant story that also displays man’s durability? How about adding viciousness and tenderness to the formula? Then you will want to read Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Did I mention a reciprocated love affair under holocaust conditions? That being said, The Memorial Research Centre of Auschwitz disputes some of Heather Morris’s details (according to The Jewish News) due to factual errors. For example in the book, Lale Sokolov (the tattooer) says he tattooed his lover-to-be Gita Furman’s arm with the number 34902, while the Research Center says it was 4562. Lale told his story to Heather Morris when he was very old. What number was really on Gita’s arm is a moot point. She died in 2003, three years before Lale told his story. Lale divulged his story to the author while in his late eighties (he died in 2006). Did he have a touch of Alzheimer’s disease? Or does it really matter? The Research Center said that there are many other factual errors in his story. Oh well, it’s not up to me to say who is right or wrong. Maybe that’s why Morris added “a novel” in small letters on the book’s cover. I, for one, thought the story was real.  

A minor flaw in the book (or novel) is the once in awhile lighthearted incident. When that would happen, it would remind me of the sitcom, Hogan’s Heroes. I didn’t think there was any room for levity in Lale’s story. Anyway in 1942, twenty-five year old Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, sees a poster in his hometown. “It demanded that each Jewish family hand over a child aged eighteen or older to work for the German government. The whispers, the rumors about what had been happening in other towns, had finally come to Krompachy. It seemed that the Slovakian government was acquiescing further to Hitler. The poster warned in bold type that if any family had such a child and did not surrender them, the whole family would be taken to the concentration camp.” Lale reported to the government and offered himself for transportation. Did the Nazis keep their word and leave Lale's family alone? Does a cattle train qualify as transportation? When he finally gets to his destination “dogs are barking, orders are yelled in German, bolts are released, wagon doors clang open. Get down from the train, leave your possessions...dogs snap and bite at those who are slow to move!” As the men are herded through the gates of the camp, “Lale looks up at the German words wrought from the metal: ARBEIT MACHT FREI (work sets you free)." Do you think the Germans are lying?

“I am commander Rudolf Hoess. I am in charge here at Auschwitz...now you will be processed here, and then you will be taken to your new home: Auschwitz Two-Birkenau.” A tattooer stabs the number 32407 on Lale’s left forearm...the men are told to strip...faster, faster...next is a cold shower, then they are issued old Russian army uniforms and boots. But don’t dress until your head is shaved. Lale is assigned Block 7, a large hut with triple bunks down one wall. The men scramble and shove each other out of the way. No food till the morning (a cup of smelly brown liquid with a piece of potato in it) and the mattresses are stuffed with hay. Wow! And I thought my first day at Parris Island was tough! The days are grueling building new barracks and crematories...moving rocks from one place to another. One day, Lale witnesses the German SS cramming naked men into a bus, locking it and then dropping a gas canister from a roof vent...killing all inside (this is one of the incidents that The Memorial Research Centre of Auschwitz says never happened). Lale faints and comes down with typhus. Somehow the men hide him for the next seven days while he recovers. When he mends, he is offered the job of assistant tattooer (tatowierer in German) and reluctantly takes it. And the story is off and running! That’s what happened in the first 35 pages...I’m not telling you anything else. Mum’s the word. Not a peep. Nada.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: One of the strangest holocaust movies I ever saw was Roberto Benigni’s 1998 movie, Life is Beautiful. Have you seen it? Benigni won the 1999 Academy Award for Best Actor. It was kind of comedy meets tragedy. A very sad movie. Here’s a synopsis from Google:

“A gentle Jewish-Italian waiter, Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni) meets Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), a pretty school teacher, and wins her over with his charm and humor. Eventually they marry and have a son, Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini). Their happiness is abruptly halted, however when Guido and Giosue are separated from Dora and taken to a concentration camp. Determined to shelter his son from the horrors of his surroundings, Guido convinces Giosue that their time in camp is merely a game.”

Twenty years later, I’m still trying to form an opinion.          

Friday, December 7, 2018

the NEUROMORPHS

The author sent me a copy of his novel to read and review:

Move over Yul Brynner and your Magnificent seven, there’s a new sheriff in town. It’s Dennis Meredith’s Patrick Jensen and his seven retired Navy Seals. This also goes for you Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson! Could you take on a army of invincible androids while also battling the Russian mob? I don’t think so. Jensen and his Seals can...at least on paper. Meredith’s novel is by no means a classic thriller or fantasy, but it is interesting entertainment. These kinds of novels are quickly forgotten only because they are mirror images of prior impossible scenarios. I thought that the author’s prose was okay, but he didn’t score any points in the empathy category. And give me a break...would Patrick’s wife, Leah, do what she did? Really? And Patrick would let her? That one was a stretch. Anyway, let me tell you a little about the story.

While Robert Landers, a prominent Houston lawyer, is at work, his servant helper android, Andrew, is mimicking Landers’ voice and mannerisms. Why? Andrew is a typical domesticated helper android made by Helper, Inc. When Robert comes home, his bourbon and soda isn’t waiting for him. He finds his android in the bathroom. “What are you doing in there, goddammit?” Andrew says, “I apologize, sir, I - “  Landers took a shower and when he came out, Andrew was circling him in order to make “a three-dimensional virtual image” of Landers while practicing Landers voice. Landers is furious, “What the hell are you doing?” Andrew repeated every thing that Landers said in order to achieve a perfect voice match. Landers said, “Damn, you’re defective! I’m going to trade your plastic ass in, maybe on a girl robot that fucks.” That was the last thing Landers said. “Andrew grabbed Landers by the throat, lifted him off the floor, and crushed his windpipe.”

Who modified this previously docile android into a killer? The doorbell rings, it's a Russian mobster, “Is he dead?” Andrew says, “Yes, Dimitri, he is dead.” Did the Russians have someone change the android’s operating system? We find out that the answer is yes when Andrew is remade into the new Robert Landers by a former employee of Helper, Inc, Gregory Mencken. Apparently, the Russians want to knock off rich people in order to grab their assets. Landers is the first to be replaced by an android. Mencken, an fired engineer from Helper, Inc. is helping in the makeover only because the Russians will kill his family if he doesn’t cooperate. The new Robert Landers will now go to his bank and transfer all his money to a bank in Arizona. All of this happens in the first five pages. The androids with the new operating system (OS) codes will be known as the neuromorphs. “Helpers with this code embedded in their OS’s could act independently! In the worst case, they could even escape human control.”
 
Where does retired Navy Seal, Patrick Jensen, and his wife, Leah, fit in? Well, they buy a co-op apartment in Phoenix and guess who is on the acceptance committee?...the neuromorphs. Can you see how lethal the combination of Patrick and his Navy Seals, killer androids and the Russian mob will be when they collide? Later Patrick will ask Helper, Inc. software expert, Garry Lapoint, what he thinks the new androids are, “Well, it’s a new operating system the criminals needed to give the androids the ability to act independently to kill their owners and embezzle their money...but remember, these Helpers have neuromophic brains. They evolve. They probably consider themselves a life form, like humans.” They are clandestine assault robots with a collective hive mind...Ouch! Can you foresee the confrontation that’s coming? The story has its ups and downs with a lot of trite and corny parts, but if you are a fan of this type of never-ending action you will love this novel and for that reason I'm recommending it, even though it’s not my cup of tea.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: I believe the first novel written about robots was Isaac Asimov’s 1950 bestseller I, Robot. The novel has several short stories that tie together. Some stories are about robots gone mad, mind-reading robots and robots with a sense of humor. In Dennis Meredith’s novel, The Neuromorphs, the robots didn’t have any sense of humor. That and the fact that they didn’t breathe were sure tip-offs for Patrick Jensen and his Navy Seals in sorting out the androids from humans.

In I, Robot, Asimov establishes the three laws of Robotics:

1-A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2-A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law.

3-A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

AURORA

Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2015 novel is out of this world...literally. The multi-winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards takes us and 2,122 people on a trip out of our solar system to the single star, Tau Ceti. It’s 11.9 light years away. It will take 170 years and seven generations of people to get there. They are going to the moon, Aurora, orbiting around Planet E. They believe they can quickly terraform Aurora to support their human colony. The story (466 pages) goes through many stages such as: the arrival, the mystery of Aurora, the quarrels and fights between the different factions on board, the cryogenic freezing and ultimately... the final solution. I thought that the author generally kept my interest except when he deemed it necessary to give the reader too much technical information. If you have a Starship and an AI computer running the ship, that’s all I need to know. I’ll never understand all the scientific jargon anyway...so just tell your story, which for the most part, he did. All the main characters were kept to a minimum with everybody in the story having a mononymous name like Devi, Badim or Freya. This style of no last names led to no confusion in the who’s who category.
 
Anyway, the story centers around Devi (the unofficial chief engineer of the Starship), her husband, Badim (a member of the security council), and their daughter, Freya (the eventual  protagonist). As they get closer to their destination, Devi asks the ship’s computer to narrate their journey. “Make a narrative account of the trip that includes all the important particulars.” So far they have traveled for 159 years, 119 days with the ship moving at a rate of one tenth the speed of light. They are purposely slowing down. “The deceleration will therefore be complete in just under twenty years.” Animal and human zoo devolution (things are reverting back to primitive forms) have begun in the ships twenty four self-contained biomes (large nature settings that depicts real countries on Earth). The IQ level of the new born children is dropping. Bacteria is starting to eat at the ship’s seals and crops are starting to fail. These are some of the many problems that Devi faces. The ship’s population is starting to get antsy as they near their destination. Since the ship needs to keep the population down to the original amount, some couples are not allowed to have a baby. Those couples are not happy. Suddenly Devi comes down with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma before they get to Aurora. She has been talking to the computer that runs the ship for twenty four years. Devi is dying.

Devi “taught ship (aka Pauline, or we). She talked to ship, like no one else in the 169 years of ship’s voyage had. Why had the others not? What was ship going to do without her? With no one to talk to, bad things can happen. Ship knew this full well.” After Devi had a sudden bad headache, ER people rushed her to the clinic. Badim and Freya sat tight in the clinic’s waiting room...then there were three doctors standing over them. “We’re sorry. She’s gone. Looks like she had a cerebral hemorrhage.” After the memorial service for Devi was over ''Preparations continued for their descent (they arrived!). Down to Aurora, down to Greenland (the name for the landing site), down to their new world, their new day. They were ready. They wanted down.” It was a “New beginning of a new history, new beginning of time itself: Day One, Year Zero. A0.1.” In ship time, 170.040. “Freya’s friend Euan was in the first landing crew...crews had been selected by lottery from among those trained to the various landing and setup jobs.” I’m afraid that’s all I’m going to tell you. This is where the story skedaddles to a thought-provoking ending. The next 350 pages are exhilarating! By the way, did you notice that the author asked most of the questions that I normally would ask in this paragraph?

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I’ve been reading a lot of sci/fi lately, mostly because authors have been sending me their space opera, or space odyssey to read and review. Kim Stanley Robinson is a different case altogether. He is a preeminent sci/fi writer and I wanted to read one of his classics. But I also want to read his award winning Mars trilogy: Red Mars (1992), Green Mars (1993) and Blue Mars (1996). Lastly, I would like to read his novel, 2312 (2012). It’s about a colony living in Terminator City on Mercury that suddenly gets attacked by a meteorite. Sadly, I’ll never have the time to accomplish that undertaking.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

THE VIKING THRONE

The author sent me an autographed copy of his novel to read and review:

What would you do if a giant sperm whale swallowed you? That’s just one of the obstacles JB Michaels’ protagonist, James Henihan, has to overcome in this swashbuckling novel. It’s JB’s first adult fantasy as he shifts away from numerous bestselling YA novels. It’s not an easy task. In any event, the path from YA to adult fantasy seemed a little cumbersome for the author. As I read the novel, more chapters seemed to be written in YA prose than chapters employing adult language. The killings were too fast without enough time for the reader to say to himself, "Way to go!" He needs to elongate the violence like Bernard Cornwell does, the king of death in battle. My two other piddling complaints are that the reader didn’t get any background on what happened during The Great Calamity (global warming?) or where the mages came from and how they made some humans into sirens. Did I enjoy this story? Yes, but with a glitch. I’m reviewing this novel essentially as an advanced YA novel with sporadic adult situations (if that makes any sense).

Earth is now a “blue planet of vast roiling seas.” Somehow mages turned some of the population into sirens, who now populate the oceans. The story opens with siren James Henihan (a little hungover) realizing that his daughter, Maggie, is missing after she warned him of someone wearing scuba gear swimming outside their home. Maggie gets captured as James and his wife, Imogen, give chase. Maggie and Imogen disappear. James gets captured and locked up in a underwater tank. Behind James were more tanks with captured sirens. With a communicating device on the tank, a man in the incarcerating vessel above them speaks, “I am Admiral Montgomery (Monty). You will be taking orders from me now...if you cooperate willingly, then rewards will be due...should you act the belligerent brute as you are now, punishments will be inflicted upon you.” Apparently, while James and the other sirens slept, scuba divers attached an electric shocking device to their necks. Monty shocked James with his remote to prove his point. What does the Monty want from his imprisoned sirens?

It soon becomes obvious...Monty wanted the captured sirens to fetch for him underwater treasures, “Dear sirens, you have been chosen for your unique skill sets and knowledge of the deep. You will swim to the submerged grounds of the Donington estate and salvage the physical monies stored below. It is my estimation that there is a vault of gold and silver bullion.” Monty had no thoughts of releasing the men after they secured the treasure...there are more valuables to be recovered from inundated cities. James takes up with three other sirens who were also caged and reluctantly diving to retrieve treasure for Monty: Jacob, William and Pierce, who along with James, belonged to the Siren Guard. This goes on for months on end. James is riddled with guilt, “What happened to Maggie and Imogen? What had I, James Henihan, done to lose my family? I’d failed to protect them. To see to it they were safe. I had failed. What good was I.”

During their many dives for treasure they will come up against banshees (“they float in wispy robes and scream until one goes deaf”), an extinct underwater dinosaur, giant whales and squids, et cetera. On page thirty three, James swims into a underwater cave and sees signs of an epic Viking battle. He finds a Viking boat. “The contents of the boat were evermore impressive. In the center of the boat was a throne. A throne with two spires and a raised headrest that shined in the beam of my torch. I carefully swam closer to the Viking throne to examine the shiny object. It was a green stone inlaid into the throne itself. The color was vibrant in the light, and the inside of the stone seemed to swirl as if the stone contained magical properties.” Okay, you had a thirty three page taste of JB's novel, now go out and buy your own copy.

The writings of JB Michaels (see my review of 12/09/2017 for his novel The Elixir) reminds me of another excellent YA author, Rick Riordan (see my review of 2/10/2013 for his novel The Lightning Thief). They both have a young protagonist in a series of novels. JB has Bud Hutchins and Rick has Percy Jackson. Now, would I like to see more of JB doing adult novels? Yes, the problems that I found in The Viking Throne are very fixable. They might not even be a problem for another reviewer. But I sensed the YA genre trying its best to squeeze into JB’s Viking novel. I highly recommend this rousing first novel of a new series.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Are there authors who have written in more than one genre? Yes indeed! Quite a few actually:

J.K. Rowling, the children’s and Harry Potter legend also released her first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy in 2012 to mixed reviews.

Stephen King writes in many genres, for example: horror novels (It and Carrie), mysteries, (The Colorado Kid) and gothic fantasies (The Green Mile).
 
Neil Gaiman writes in many genres including poetry. Examples of his novels are children's (Chu’s Day), poetry (Blueberry Girl), and adult (The Ocean at the End of the Lane). And I almost forgot sci/fi (InterWorld).

The list also includes noted writers; such as, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, and Anne Rice.

Friday, November 9, 2018

STAR RIDERS

The author sent me a copy of his novel to read and review:

Can any novel or film be busier than Rick A. Allen’s first novel? I doubt it. Okay, Star Wars books and films are busy, but they come up for some air now and then. In Allen’s novel, every page is loaded with action...sometimes a little corny but always moving forward. It’s a space opera’s space opera. It includes action on six of the eleven planets of The Nodal Community. What’s that? It’s a union of planets light years apart that try to help each other by sharing the latest technology. By the way, Earth is part of the Nodal Community but doesn’t know it yet. If you liked all the unusual aliens that roamed around in Star Wars movies, you will love the warped vision of aliens in Allen’s novel. In Star Wars we meet Pau’ans, Clawdites, Tusken Raiders, and the Gamorreans to name a few (look them up, they’ve all been in the Star Wars films). And my personal favorite (Jabba the Hutt’s pet) is the Kowakian monkey-lizard. This being said, the author did an amazing job keeping the main characters down to about six humans and four aliens. Even with all the characters involved, I had no problem remembering who was who.  

In Star Riders, the reader meets in order of appearance: a Shren, a very tall alien with long white hair covering his body; the Emdannen species, short Meerkat-like looking aliens who “make their homes in the ground and build downward not upwards”; the Throngans, “They’re black-furred, they run on four legs, walk on two, and have a pair of short arms between the legs.” Haha, I mentioned that the author has a warped mind! And lastly, we have a Pallun, a very large bison-like alien with huge lips and one nostril. You are probably asking yourself...how do aliens from all those planets communicate? They have tharsh plants! If you are having a mixed alien meeting...then make sure there are tharsh plants in the room. The tharsh plant enables everyone to understand each other. Good stuff. The little co-hero, Moovik (a emdannen), reminded me of Rocket, the raccoon-like bounty hunter in the 2014 and 2017 Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

The novel was not without its flaws. Besides some corny lines, the prose was kinda fledging (normal for a first-time author) and the story, while very busy, was too easy to predict. The novel missed an opportunity to garner an attention-grabbing effect because things happened too fast. The author needs to calm down...slow the pace. The story is about one man’s attempt to find his brother, who is presumed dead during a multi-planet civil war over technology. However, let’s talk about the Star Rider, itself. What is the Star Rider? It’s the real star of the novel. It’s a strange purple and yellow ship that lays black disks in a chain around suns. It somehow gets energy from those spots (no one knows for sure because we never meet the aliens piloting the ship). Nothing seems to hurt the ships (there are at least two), nor can you make it change its routine. It’s like the ships are building a galactic highway to connect the eleven planets of the Nodal Community. I’m sure we will find out in the ensuing novels. Good first novel...just curb your enthusiasm (sound familiar?)

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Barnes & Noble asks, “What makes a science fiction story a space opera? Well, it needs to take place in space obviously, though not necessarily all of the time. Hanging out solely in an arcology on a climate-blasted Earth, or even in a domed city on Mars, doesn’t cut it. Actually, the more space the better; though there are certainly exceptions, a good space opera should span a galaxy or two, or at least a solar system. And an opera has to be grand and dramatic-battling empires, invading aliens, mysterious ancient technology, and grand, sweeping story arcs.” I agree with one exception: if any part of the story is spent on Earth, it’s no longer a space opera. It’s okay to mention Earth...just don’t spend any of time there.

I’ve been reviewing quite a few sci/fi novels lately. So, you already know my favorites, but one that I’ve never brought up is John Scalzi’s 2005 novel, Old Man’s War (see my review of 11/21/2010), which spawned five other related novels. A B&N editorial review says, “When John Perry turns 75, he does two things: he visits his wife’s grave and he joins the Colonial Defense Force. The CDF’s enlistment contract is incredibly tempting. When a person reaches retirement age, all they have to do is give up all their worldly possessions and promise never to return to Earth. In return, elderly recruits get to take advantage of the Colonial Union’s secretive therapy, which somehow reverses aging. In essence, the soldier’s exchange a few years of military service for a new life on one of the Union’s many colony planets. Without the faintest clue of what he’s really getting himself into, Perry realizes quickly that he has just signed up for ‘an all-expenses-paid tour of hell.’ With a brand new, tank-grown, super-modified body--green skin, cat’s eyes, built-in-cranial computers, etc.-- Perry and his ultra-human cohorts travel from planet to planet leaving dead aliens in their wake.”

John Scalzi won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel with Redshirts (see my review of 02/03/2016).  

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

LIGHTS on the SEA

The author sent me a copy of his novel to read and review:

Wow, what an opening! A raging thunderstorm in the fictitious town of San Remo de Mar on the island of Brent knocks Harold and Mary Rose Grapes’ house off a hundred foot cliff into the ocean.Yes, that’s right. It slides all the way down into the ocean and sails off. Why didn’t the house sink? Because the house took some of the landscape with it and that was mostly porous volcanic rock, which floats. Sometimes I wonder how some authors come up with these ideas. Anyway, most of house took on substantial damage...but it floated on. The irony of the situation was that the house was scheduled to be knocked down the very next day. Why? Because over the last thirty-five years, the house was inching closer and closer to the cliff’s edge and was a threat to the beach below. As we follow the Grapes on their voyage, we find that they lost their only son, Dylan, in a similar storm thirty-five years ago.

Harold and Dylan (eight years old) were building a ship at an old shipyard with freebie wood when the storm struck. The row boat they were using to get home capsized. “It took Harold mere seconds to resurface. Coughing up salt water, he tried to shout, frantically looking all around, but all he could see was blackness. He managed to grab a piece of lumber that had fallen out of the boat, but he didn’t see any sign of the boat itself. Or of his son." Harold was rescued by a fishing boat...they never found Dylan’s body. Mary Rose never forgave her husband, Harold. Harold never forgave himself. Not for nothing, didn’t the couple ever hear the term, out of sight, out of mind? I know that sounds callous, but it becomes a vital point when the Grapes meet an inuit family later in the story. Anyway the boat they were building (which was going to be their home) was taken apart to build the house on the cliff.
 
So as the storm hit their house thirty-five years later, the Grapes had some bad memories, “If anyone in San Remo unable to sleep because of the storm had looked out their window toward the cliff, they would have seen something truly unbelievable. A three-story house tilted at a thirty-five degree angle toward the sea, suspended as if by magic. The yellow house, along with a section of garden attached to the foundation, began to free-fall toward the white-capped sea. The impact was brutal.” As the Grapes tried to fix all the holes in their floating house, The prime question asked between them was, “are we sinking?” and the answer was always, “I think so.” Many problems occur during their housewrecked odyssey, but I will not say anymore...buy your own copy to find out what transpires. The author, Miquel Reina, already an established filmmaker and graphic artist, did a credible job on his first crack at a novel. His character development was first class, as was his ability to elicit empathy for his characters.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: I’ve done a few shipwreck reviews before, but this is my first housewreck (don’t bother looking that up, there is no such word) review. I do have two shipwreck reviews in my blog archive. The first one is Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel, Robinson Crusoe (I’ll bet you didn’t know that novel was written 299 years ago!) and the second one was Yann Martel’s 2001 novel, Life of Pi. The Robinson Crusoe review can be seen on my 1/1/2016 blog and the Life of Pi review can be seen on my 3/18/2013 blog.

Pi Patel survives 227 days stranded on a small boat with a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker, while Robinson Crusoe survived two shipwrecks before ultimately spending 28 years as a castaway on a tropical island.